HOUSTON -- A little bit of New Orleans now lives deep in the heart of Houston.
Witness Beaucoup Bar and Grill, a neighborhood restaurant on Old Spanish Trail that dishes out authentic cajun cuisine—"gumbo, shrimp po-boys, catfish po-boys, catfish baskets, red beans and rice, black beans," says the owner, Kesha Reed. And for all the po-boys and sweet lemonade served there, the customers can thank Hurricane Katrina.
Seven years ago this week, Reed evacuated from New Orleans and headed for Texas, where she had attended college at the University of Houston. She thought she would stay just for the weekend, but she still lives here, operating her own business. Now, Houston is her home and her restaurant near the Texas Medical Center is her livelihood, but the news of another storm churning toward the Crescent City has her worried.
"No one thought what happened the first time would happen," Reed says. "And they say they’re making provisions this time, but you just, you never know."
The irony is inescapable, and for some Katrina survivors, haunting: Hurricane Isaac is expected to make landfall exactly seven years after Katrina hit New Orleans. Houston not only won worldwide respect for tackling a chaotic humanitarian crisis with inspirational efficiency and compassion, it also gained literally countless new citizens who decided to settle in the Bayou City. They became what one city official called the "New-stonians."
But many of them still have strong ties to New Orleans, whether friends or family or former neighbors. Now, many of them anxiously watch as another hurricane approaches their old hometown.
"Please, God, not again," says Ryan Clay, a Katrina evacuee who now works for Houston’s city government. "When they first started talking about this one, with Isaac, the first thing I did was I began to pray. We can’t take another storm."
Clay and her family never planned to leave New Orleans, at least not until National Guardsmen knocked on their door and ordered them to evacuate.
"So we came to Houston," she recalls. "We left the day before it hit, not expecting it to be anything major. We booked a hotel for a day or two."
She ended up at a church shelter in the Copperfield area, after which a generous family took her and her brother into their home. She eventually landed in an apartment, where she met a city official who offered her a job helping other evacuees. Clay is a lively woman with a wide smile and a hearty laugh, but her eyes still well with tears when she remembers getting that opportunity at a time when her life was tangled in uncertainty.
"I cried," she recalls. "On impact, I cried."
Now she works with city officials dealing with homeless Houstonians. She gets upset when she talks about how many children in the city don’t have roofs over their heads and how many veterans who served her country now have nowhere to live. And even though Isaac’s a minimal storm compared to Katrina, she’s very worried about the strength of the coming waves and the weakness of the levees in New Orleans.
"Houston is my home, but New Orleans is my heart," she says.
Back at the Beaucoup Bar and Grill, Reed’s 81 year-old grandfather sits outside behind the restaurant, making old barrels into new tables. He lives in New Orleans but, by coincidence, he’s visiting Houston this week.
As Isaac approaches the coastline, his granddaughter is relieved.